Remember this early 90s campaign?
Turns out there’s some truth to it.
Ever been elbows-deep in a jumbo bag of potato chips, telling yourself just a few more, but stopping when only crumbs remain? Ever baked a pan brownies and shaved just a few millimeters from the edge every time you walked into the kitchen? Ever go to the movies and just had to get buttery popcorn? We like to call these trigger foods and some people are more prone to lose control than others. But the first step in breaking their hold is understanding why they hypnotize us in the first place.
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For starters, it’s basically encoded in our DNA to binge on salty, fatty, and sugary foods, or on various combinations of the three. Back in the day, foods with high levels of these nutrients (and ergo, lots of calories) were rarely found in nature, so when our hunter-gatherer ancestors discovered them, they ate them to completion to ensure they wouldn’t, you know, die of starvation later.
Unfortunately, that same instinct now primes us for binging on junk, says Gary Wenk, PhD, author of Your Body on Food. Whenever you eat super sugary, salty, and/or fatty foods, the dopamine neurons in your brain become very active, producing feelings of pleasure that encourage you to “eat that again!” These also happen to be the neurons that are activated after someone takes cocaine or meth. Yikes, right? That makes those brownies legitimately addicting.
(Photo: Getty Images)
But what are the absolute biggest trigger foods? Foods that combine salt, sweet, and/or fat, like pizza (salt-fat), donuts (sweet-fat), and peanut-butter pretzels (sweet-salt-fat) will lead to the most cravings and tendency to overeat, says Wenk, noting that these flavors work synergistically to enhance each other’s addictive properties.
How to break free? The key is to snack on something that captures the essence of what you’re craving, but that’s far less addicting—that is, the food doesn’t combine high levels of sugar and fat or salt and fat (or all three). That might mean opting for plain roasted nuts over salted and roasted nuts, apples sautéed in a little coconut oil instead of apple pie, a square of 70% cocoa dark chocolate instead of a half a sheet of double fudge brownies, or a coffee with almond milk and a dash of cinnamon instead of a pumpkin spice latte. These help at least partially satisfy the itch without setting you off on a junk food bender.
Originally Posted HERE